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The International History of Turquoise

Turquoise: A Timeless Trend

Turquoise is a rare, medium-hard gemstone known for its brilliant green or blue coloring.[1] Deposits usually form on exposed hillsides in arid climates.[2] A variety of civilizations across the world have been mining and using Turquoise for thousands of years, many believing that the stone had special powers to protect its wearer.

The Power of Turquoise in Africa, Asia, and Europe

Egypt was one of the earliest cultures to mine and use turquoise.[3] The Egyptians were fascinated by turquoise and told the tale of a king whose magician parted waters in order to recover a turquoise jewel that had fallen from a maiden’s hair.[4] They sometimes referred to the goddess Hathor as the “Lady of Turquoise Country,” and thought the stone was sacred to her because blue and green symbolized fertility and rebirth. Many Egyptian rulers were buried with artifacts inlaid with turquoise.[5]

Persian turquoise became particularly famous throughout the middle east and was reputed to be the finest in the world, frequently appearing in jewelry.[6] An ancient Persian manuscript claimed that the stone was associated with luck and victory.[7] In the early 14th century, Muhammad Ibn Mansur made even more elaborate claims, writing that looking at turquoise could help strengthen the eyes, that seeing turquoise in the morning could give somebody a fortunate day, and that true turquoise set in gold could protect the owner from injury. He advised looking at turquoise during the new moon because the stone “helps its owner to victory over its enemies, protects him against injury and makes him liked by all men.”[8]

As late as the 19th century, S. M. Tagore (1861-1941) made similar claims that turquoise could restore vision, fix a variety of digestive issues, relieve pain and swelling, and cure maladies ranging from epilepsy to snake bites. He also argued that a turquoise ring would make the wearer happy and confident while protecting him or her against drowning and lightening.[9] Finally, he wrote that “[h]e who after looking at the moon on the Pratipada [the first day after a new moon] casts his eyes over this stone becomes the master of fabulous wealth.”[10]

Another belief originating in the Mediterranean was that turquoise could help ward off the “Evil Eye,” meaning a jealous or envious gaze that unintentionally causes illness. The idea that turquoise could be used as protection against this phenomenon spread to India, Europe, and even South America.[11]

In Tibet, turquoise was used in religious ceremonies. According to anthropologist Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), “[i]n the religious service turquoises are employed, strung in the shape of beads, for rosaries… [they] are offered on the altars of the gods… the turquoises are to signify the actual jewelry with which the deities are adorned, and which forms part of their essential attributes.”[12] In Tibet it is also common to see both turquoise and coral on gau boxes, special prayer boxes worn as jewelry.[13]

Turquoise also became popular for its potential powers in Europe. The Italian Medici family wore turquoise cameos for good fortune. Russians believed that turquoise was lucky and could bring both good health and prosperity.[14] Barnardus Caesius in 1636 listed a plethora of potential benefits of turquoise, including preserving eyesight, protecting the wearer from injury, providing emotional comfort, and bringing happiness and prosperity. He even claimed that a particular and very beautiful turquoise stone wept over its owner’s death, “its glorious luster becoming dimmed, and it began to appear obscured for a long time.”[15]

Turquoise in the Americas

Many Native American tribes in North America repeated stories about the origins of turquoise. One legend claimed that a chief from the center of the world sweated turquoise in his resting spots around the globe. Another legend from the Hopi claimed that the excrement of lizards turned into turquoise.[16]

Regardless of its origins, many tribes historically believed that the stone represented wealth, happiness, and good luck. The Navajo, for example, thought wearing turquoise pleased the gods. The Zuni and Hopi often used turquoise to make carvings of animals and gods or as part of jewelry. Some tribes still use turquoise in tribal ceremonies and private offerings. The Zuni have used turquoise on the traditional garments they wear during ceremonial dances.[17]

The Mayans and Aztecs associated the color blue with authority. Important rulers or priests wore necklaces that included turquoise and the stone was used to pay tribute. Turquoise was also important within the Inca Empire in South America. It was common for people to use turquoise in both art and jewelry, such as earrings and pendants, and archeologists have unearthed many turquoise relics from Incan civilization.[18]

Buy Turquoise Jewelry

If you are interested in adding the stunning hues of turquoise to your jewelry collection, the Museum of Jewelry offers a particularly large selection of turquoise earrings, including a pair inspired by ancient Egypt. If you are not looking for earrings, you might be interested in the Turquoise Mosaic Bracelet or the Flora Turquoise, Opal, and Pearl Necklace.




About the Author

Charlotte MoyCharlotte Moy is a freelance writer who holds a PhD in History and several years of teaching experience. She loves finding the weird and wonderful parts of history that grab your attention and excels at researching and creating content on other topics as well. Find out more about her on LinkedIn


Footnotes:

[1] "Turquoise," Wikipedia.

[2] Joe Dan Lowry and Joe P. Lowry, Turquoise: The World Story of a Fascinating Gemstone (Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2010), 104.

[3] Lowry, 44.

[4] Lowry, 24.

[5] Lowry, 46-48.

[6] Lowry, 49.

[7] Lowry, 24.

[8] Lowry, 26.

[9] Lowry, 26-28.

[10] Lowry, 27-28.

[11] Lowry, 24-25.

[12] Lowry, 28.

[13] Lowry, 29-30.

[14] Lowry, 30-32

[15] Lowry, 33-34.

[16] Lowry, 36-37

[17] Lowry, 39-40.

[18] Lowry, 34.



References:

Lowry, Joe Dan and Joe P. Lowry. Turquoise: The World Story of a Fascinating Gemstone. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2010.

"Turquoise." Wikipedia. Accessed December 7, 2020.



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The International History of Turquoise

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